On Bill Conlin's Hall of Fame Nod

On Bill Conlin's Hall of Fame Nod

Legendary Philadelphia baseball writer Bill Conlin is heading into the Hall of Fame this weekend in Cooperstown, New York. Old One Chair is receiving the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the highest honor for a baseball writer.

As a person who writes about sports solely on the Internet, I'm not supposed to really like Conlin. Or something like that. Truth be told, I've thoroughly enjoyed reading his columns over the years. The guy is a walking Phillies encyclopedia who can flat out write. As cliche as it is, Conlin is an institution. Sure, he's as curmudgeonly as humanly possible, but that's part of what makes him the undisputed elder statesman of Philadelphia sportswriters. I disagree with him on a few things, either the premise of an entire column or a line or two in a column I otherwise agree with. But while disagreeing, I'm rarely thinking, "Conlin is wrong."

If you send him an email to argue, you'll often get an argument. If you send him compliments, probably just a "Thank you." He's seen his share of controversy, including that time he evoked Hitler when discussing bloggers. He also didn't vote for Nolan Ryan to get into the Hall. What a dick.

Still, it's amazing that someone has written about sports so well for such a long time. Sure, he's not the first, but he's the guy in our city whom we've all read. To me, Conlin is about the stories, the minor anecdotes that show up in his columns. The stuff that it takes both a phenomenal memory and all those decades of experience to put on paper. He's been doing his job longer than most of us have been breathing. There's absolutely something to be said for longevity. He's 77 years old and could easily write for another decade. At least, I hope he does.

I can't remember things that happened two seasons ago and Conlin is not only spouting off the Phillies lineup from a random game against the Mets in 1967, he's also telling you which guy had the best quote that day.

Rich Hofmann does a wonderful job capturing Conlin in his column from yesterday's Daily News. It's a column that pays homage to the great writer, but also demonstrates just how much the craft of sports writing has changed over the years.

His goal was to tell his readers why, not what. He would shove the score into the game story, usually, but the rest was his personal canvas. If he wanted to write the whole story about a botched rundown in the fourth inning, peeling the sequence apart like an orange, he would.

In the clubhouse, the insights of the principals in the rundown would be recorded. But that was only the beginning. Because Conlin knew what he had seen but he also knew that there was a group of scouts and broadcasters and team executives gathered around a table and a cocktail in the press lounge at the Vet. Conlin would join them - to learn more, and because he was thirsty.

These days, you're lucky if one or two players even address the media in the Phillies clubhouse. Now, I'm far from a beat reporter, and about as green as it gets, but I get to my share of games at Citizens Bank Park, and I can't fathom sitting around drinking cocktails with such a group.

Then there's the strange hours and standing around:

Most baseball writers get to the park at 3 p.m. and begin reporting in the clubhouse soon after. By careful scientific measurement, approximately 82.6 percent of that time is a complete waste of time, but you do it for the other 17.4 percent of the time when something might actually happen.

It's so true. The first couple of times I ever covered a baseball game last season, I was baffled by the amount of standing around. Initially, I thought it was all so unproductive. I could have been blog, blog, blogging away about something rather than standing around in the dugout watching batting practice.

But then at a certain point it started to make sense. In the midst of all of this standing around, you'd get an anecdote about Charlie Manuel throwing batting practice, or the time he went out to dinner with George Steinbrenner back in the 70's. Or you catch Shane Victorino riding on a lawnmower at Wrigley Field. Or you could be sitting in the dugout when an assistant general manager starts talking off the record about the trade deadline, giving invaluable insight.

All of that down time pays off in fantastic little nuggets that only the sports writer can experience, which I think, I hope, is reason enough for the 82.6 percent.

Hofmann goes on to perfectly explain how different things are today than when they were back in the day. Damn Al Gore.

These days, Conlin's current feud is with bloggers, what he calls "dot-commers," as well as sabermetricians. It really is a different world. I'm not sure what kind of newspaper beat man a young Bill Conlin would have made in 2011: wake up, blog, get to the park early, write a pregame notes story for the website, blog, write notes for the paper, Twitter during the game, spend only about 20 minutes in the clubhouse, file the game story by 11 p.m., maybe touch it up for the last edition, shoot a short video, blog.

Given the current demands, nobody is ever again going to cover a baseball team for 20 years. And the great irony is that the people who have the best chance in 2011 to do it like Conlin did it in 1971 are the dot-commers, like Stark at ESPN.com, who can stay in the postgame clubhouse forever, searching for that singular anecdote, before sitting down to write.

Pretty spot on. I've seen Stark lingering around the Phillies clubhouse and have to think it's a similar fashion to what Conlin did back in the day. Stark doesn't have to ask about details of a common game story, he can go after the minutiae that is really fascinating, like what exactly Roy Halladay is thinking when he talks to an ump between innings.

As mentioned before, there's absolutely something to be said for longevity. Guys like Jayson Stark get the better angles because they're always there, they've been there for years. The players recognize them, they know he's a baseball guy who wants to talk about the intricacies of the game. Players almost volunteer their anecdotes and wisdom to experienced guys like that. On the flip side, players often look at younger, newer faces like we should be getting the hell out of their way.

My first hand experience bumping into Conlin was not of him typing a column away on an archaic typewriter. Nope, the first time I ever ran into him in the press box down in Clearwater he was typing away on an iPad with a keyboard. And yes, he was using an oversized font. During the Phillies-Giants NLCS last year at Citizens Bank Park, he was showing off videos on his iPad like an 8-year-old on Christmas parading his new toy. He also really enjoyed playing the billiards game on that iPad, I recall.

I chuckled. Bill Conlin playing games on an iPad in the press box during the NLCS. (I was probably perusing Facebook myself)

Then I read his column the next day and was amazed at his writing. As usual.

>>The Bill of Writes: Conlin, the choice voice of Philadelphia baseball, to be honored [Daily News]

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg wins 14th as Nationals down Indians

CLEVELAND -- Stephen Strasburg shut down Cleveland for seven innings and bounced back from his only loss this season, leading the Washington Nationals to a 4-1 win over the Indians on Wednesday.

Strasburg (14-1) began the season with 13 straight wins before he was beaten by the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 21. The powerful right-hander shook off that blemish, holding the Indians to only three hits as the Nationals recovered after blowing a two-run lead in the ninth and losing on Tuesday night.

Washington rookie Trea Turner drove in three runs and Daniel Murphy hit his 20th homer off Carlos Carrasco (7-4), who nearly matched Strasburg but was done in by one bad inning.

Nationals reliever Blake Treinen stopped Cleveland's threat in the ninth, getting a game-ending double play for his major league save.

Strasburg walked one and struck out seven (see full recap)

Cardinals snap Familia's saves streak, rally past Mets 5-4
NEW YORK -- Yadier Molina and pinch-hitter Kolten Wong each stroked an RBI double in the ninth inning, and the St. Louis Cardinals ended Jeurys Familia's streak of 52 straight saves in rallying past the New York Mets 5-4 on Wednesday night.

Yoenis Cespedes hit a go-ahead homer off Adam Wainwright to cap a three-run comeback in the seventh that gave the Mets a 4-3 lead. But then Familia, who hadn't blown a regular-season save opportunity since July 30 last year, finally faltered.

Jedd Gyorko drew a one-out walk in the ninth and was replaced by pinch-runner Randal Grichuk. Molina hit the next pitch to deep center field, and Grichuk scored standing up to tie it.

Molina was thrown out at third by Familia (2-2) on pinch-hitter Jeremy Hazelbaker's comebacker, but Hazelbaker stole second and scored when Wong lined a double just inside the left-field line.

Familia's franchise-record saves streak was the third-longest in major league history behind Tom Gordon (54) and Eric Gagne (84).

Jonathan Broxton (3-2) tossed a scoreless eighth and Seung Hwan Oh got three quick outs for his sixth save (see full recap)

Padres hit 3 HRs to extend streak, beat Blue Jays 8-4
TORONTO -- Adam Rosales hit a two-run home run, Alex Dickerson and Brett Wallace each hit solo shots and the San Diego Padres beat the Toronto Blue Jays 8-4 on Wednesday, avoiding a three-game sweep.

San Diego extended its club-record streak of games with at least one home run to 25. It's the longest run since the 2002 Texas Rangers set a major league record by homering in 27 straight.

Luis Perdomo (5-4) allowed four runs and six hits in 5 2-3 innings to win back-to-back starts.

Wallace reached base three times. He was hit by a pitch and scored on Rosales' homer in the third, connected off R.A. Dickey in the fifth and hit an RBI single off Joe Biagini in the sixth.

Dickerson homered for the fourth time in four games when he connected off Franklin Morales in the eighth. He is first Padres rookie to homer in four straight games.

Dickey (7-12) allowed seven runs, six earned, and four hits in 5 2-3 innings. The knuckleballer is winless in three starts and has allowed six home runs in that span (see full recap).

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Eric Rowe explains 'hiccups,' ready for fresh start in pads

Earlier this week, Doug Pederson admitted cornerback Eric Rowe had some “hiccups” during the spring, and seemed to indicate they stemmed from learning a new defense. 

Rowe says that wasn’t the problem at all.

“It wasn’t the new defense that was giving me whatever hiccups [Pederson] was talking about,” Rowe said on Wednesday as he reported for his second training camp (see Day 3 observations). “It was just, I was having trouble breaking on top of the routes, specifically the curl routes. But fade ball, deep post, digs, I didn’t have any trouble there. It was just curl routes. I just knew I had to work on it after the OTAs.”

Rowe, 23, said the problem was technical; he just needed to get his feet down quicker.

Whatever the problem, whatever the hiccups, it seems as though Rowe’s standing within the organization and on the depth chart isn’t what it once was.

Many thought he would be a starter in 2016, like he was at the end of 2015, but that wasn’t the way things were in the spring. Instead, Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks took those positions, and it looks like Nolan Carroll, returning from an injury, and rookie Jalen Mills, who hasn’t yet practiced in pads, are vying for playing time, too.

In back-to-back days earlier this week, Pederson and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz failed to mention Rowe’s name while listing players at the cornerback spot. Coincidental omissions or a vocalized unofficial depth chart?

Rowe could possibly go from starter to deep bench player, but that’s not what he’s planning on.

“I know I had a little ups and downs in OTAs, but now the pads are coming on,” Rowe said. “I feel like it’s a fresh start for me and I’m just ready to get out here.”

Pads go on Saturday.

“Right now, I think I still stand in a good position (with the team),” Rowe said. “Football is about the game with pads on. Now we’re really about to see in a couple days when we put the pads on.”

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

Small in stature, Wendell Smallwood likes to play big

He looks like a small back. He's built like a small back. He wants to play like a big back.

Wendell Smallwood, trying to make the Eagles as a reserve tailback, stands 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, but he said he’s got a surprise for defenders that think he’s one of those itty-bitty backs that dances around looking pretty … until they get hit.

“I think that’s what most people expect,” he said Tuesday. “But when I actually put my head down and fight for those extra yards and get under guys, guys start to say, ‘Hey!’ They start to feel me a little bit.

“So I definitely think that started to show my last year in college, and I started becoming more of an inside zone type of runner instead of an outside runner.”

None of this should be a surprise considering Smallwood’s position coach is Duce Staley, who during his 10-year NFL career was much more interested in running over people than around them.

Smallwood is nowhere near as big as Staley, who played at about 235 to 240. But that’s the kind of back he wants to be.

“It’s definitely important to me and it’s definitely what Duce wants me to do,” Smallwood said. “He wants me to hit the holes and hit ‘em hard and that’s the reason he got me here.

“Duce, he doesn’t like small backs. He doesn’t. I don’t think he believes in those guys. He was a big boy. Running dudes over left and right. That’s what he wants.”

Smallwood played sparingly as a freshman at West Virginia, shared time with Rushel Shell as a sophomore, then took over last year when he led the Big 12 with 1,519 rushing yards and added nine touchdowns, 26 catches and a 6.4 rushing average.

The Eagles plucked him out of Morgantown in the fifth round, and in an uncertain running back picture, he’s got a realistic chance to not just make the team but also play a role.

Just don’t expect him to play like a typical guy his size.

“I don’t consider myself a small back anymore,” he said. “People have always said that and I kind of started to agree, but then I looked at some of the guys who are around and I’m not a small back at all.

“I’m not little and the running style I like to do is suited for a big back, and my catching kind of throws people off. I definitely think I’m a mixture of both.”

Smallwood ranked 13th in Division I in rushing yards last year, and his 6.4 average was tied for ninth among backs with at least 200 carries.

He said a lot of defenders expect him to be a finesse back, a guy who likes to juke safeties and linebackers instead of bowling them over.

“Get me going downhill and I’ll get you what I can get you,” he said. “A lot of [defenders] kind of take the easy route and think it’s going to be easy and then the rest of the game they’re going low and trying to take my legs out.”

Look at the Eagles’ running back picture.

The starter is Ryan Mathews, who is talented but injury-prone. The backup right now probably is Kenjon Barner, who has 34 career carries. Then there’s Darren Sproles, whose 3.8 average last year was his lowest since 2009 and second lowest of his 11-year career.

With a strong camp, there’s no reason Smallwood can’t work himself into that picture.

The last frontier for the Northern Delaware native is blitz pickup. Something he was never asked to do at WVU.

“I don’t think I did basically any in college,” he said. “They didn’t ask me to block at all. I was mainly running routes.

“But as soon as I got here, Duce emphasized, ‘If you want to get on the field, you’re going to block. If you’re not going to block, you’re not going to play.'”

Staley’s No. 22 wasn’t available, but Smallwood is happy to wear the jersey number of another one of his favorite backs growing up, Correll Buckhalter’s No. 28, who he seems quite similar to.

It’s not fair to compare Smallwood to Staley, Buckhalter, Brian Westbrook or any other former Eagles back until the pads go on and we see what he’s really made of.

But Smallwood said he’s thrilled Staley is his coach and said there’s nobody he’d rather be playing for.

“I think he’s a great fit for me as a coach,” Smallwood said. “I need a kind of guy who drives me, tough guy, who’s not going to let up, who’s going to keep his foot on my back. I definitely need that kind of coaching.

“Just being around him growing up and seeing what he did when he was here and how he runs and him being one of my favorite backs, I was kind of star-struck to be around him, and now he’s my coach. It’s definitely a great situation for me.”